Vermont man earns EPA recognition for C&D end market development

Vermont man earns EPA recognition for C&D end market development

In a rural state with just one shingle recycler, James 'Buzz' Surwilo is tackling the challenge of finding homes for RAS.

September 18, 2019

While recycling some construction and demolition (C&D) material is straightforward, other materials, like asphalt shingles, pose significant challenges in finding end markets. With comparably priced alternatives and concerns over cracking when mixed in pavement, recycled asphalt shingles (RAS) often have trouble finding homes

In a rural state with just one shingle recycler, James “Buzz” Surwilo is tackling the challenge in an initiative that has earned him recent recognition from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The EPA has awarded Surwilo with an individual Merit Award for his work as an environmental analyst with the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). He was among 25 recipients across New England honored by EPA's New England office at the 2019 Environmental Merit Awards ceremony Sept. 10 at Faneuil Hall.

As part of his role with the DEC, Surwillo reviews Vermont’s Act 250 plans, which require construction projects to have a waste management plan, and offers suggestions for improving them. 

While his work involves all types of C&D material, Surwilo has been working with the DEC on boosting recycling rates for asphalt shingles since the late 1990s. 

Vermont produces about 25,000 tons of waste shingles per year, according to the EPA. The state has just one shingle recycler—Myers Container Service of Winooski—that processes about 2,500 tons of RAS annually.

Surwilo works closely with Myers in keeping the quality of the RAS up to standard. While the state’s department of transportation is “not enthusiastic” about using RAS in hot mix asphalt, Surwilo says, he was integral in working with the agency to begin using RAS in shoulder paving and dirt road maintenance projects.

Because RAS has few uses beyond road applications, Surwilo says, a current focus of his is working with the department of transportation to expand its use. A law passed in Vermont in 2015 mandating greater C&D recycling has spurred a DEC pilot program that Surwilo hopes will open more doors for RAS use in the state. Last fall, the DEC began funding road pavement projects that used RAS in an unbound aggregates mix.

“We’re using money to try this material out and hoping it will be successful,” Surwilo says. “If it enhances the performance of these roads, which we’re hoping for, then we can trumpet this as a material [the department of transportation] might want to look at.”

The DEC has so far funded projects in two towns, giving them $2,000 each for the RAS and trucking costs. Then, the grant recipients are responsible for providing the gravel and installing the mix, which is 80 percent gravel and 20 percent RAS. 

“It’s just something lowkey and low-tech, and it may be suitable throughout the state, so we’re hoping it takes off,” Surwilo says. “We thought it would be a good idea to pursue because it doesn’t take a lot of specialized equipment or specifications.”

The DEC has three more $2,000 grants available for paving with RAS that Surwilo is hoping to award before this winter.

Though the DEC has only funded two towns to date, the work is already gaining traction—the EPA says in the recent construction season, demand for the shingles in the state has increased by 50 percent.

“Surwilo’s work has been recognized as an example of market development strategies in Vermont and nationally,” EPA says in a news release.

In addition to his work with RAS, the EPA says Surwilo “has been effective in reducing the waste stream, specifically through salvaging and recycling of construction, demolition and disaster debris materials.” The EPA cites Surwilo’s work cleaning up the Robertson Paper brownfield site in Bellows Falls, Vermont, where Surwilo reviewed the draft plan, met with contractors and refined the plan, increasing the amount of brick, timbers, and other materials that were reclaimed. 

RAS, however, remains a focal point for Surwilo heading into next year. 

DEC recently championed an effort in Vermont that has lead to passage of a law requiring all solid waste management entities to have an asphalt shingle collection program by July of 2020. 

“It’s a stretch, because we only have that one asphalt shingle recycler,” Surwilo says. “We’re taking a chance.”

Surwilo says the law is meant to “push the envelope a little bit and see if there’s a market for asphalt shingles.” 

With just one shingle recycler to cover Vermont’s 9,600 square miles, Surwilo is hoping the law will encourage other asphalt shingle recyclers to come online.

But for now, he’s continuing to work with Myers on preparing for the anticipated influx of RAS to come.